Federal prosecutors say a member of the California-based “Rise Above Movement” white supremacist organization pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to riot in connection with the “Unite the Right” rally two summers ago in Charlottesville. Court papers say 25-year-old Thomas Gillen traveled to Virginia with the intent and expectation of engaging in violence.
From the U.S. Attorney for Western Virginia: Charlottesville, VIRGINIA – Thomas Walter Gillen, a member of the white-supremacist organization known as the Rise Above Movement (RAM), pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville to one count of conspiracy to riot in connection with the August 2017 “United the Right” rally in Charlottesville and other purported political rallies in California. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, Colonel Gary T. Settle of the Virginia State Police, and Special Agent in Charge David Archey of the FBI’s Richmond Division made the announcement.
“The First Amendment protects an individual’s or organization’s right to speak, assemble, and espouse political views, but it does not license insensate acts of violence committed under the guise of First Amendment expression,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today. “As Mr. Gillen has admitted as part of his guilty plea, he and other members of RAM attended the Unite the Right rally and other purported political demonstrations in California to incite and commit acts of violence, not to exercise their rights to free speech. We are grateful for the commitment of the FBI and the Virginia State Police in bringing these defendants to justice.”
“When the defendant conspired to commit violent acts at the Charlottesville rally, he damaged an entire community,” Special Agent Archey said today. “The FBI and its partners will continue to aggressively investigate these types of violations. We are grateful for the partnership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia and the Virginia State Police on this case.”
According to plea documents filed during today’s hearing, Gillen, 25, of Redondo Beach, Calif., was a member of RAM, which was a California-based, combat-ready, militant group that represented itself as part of the new nationalist and white supremacy movement. Fellow RAM members Benjamin Drake Daley, Michael Paul Miselis and Cole Evan White were indicted in October 2018, along with Gillen, and charged with violating the federal riots statute.
White pleaded guilty on November 30, 2018 to one count of conspiracy to riot.
RAM openly identified as “alt-right” and “nationalist” and its members and associates frequently posted photographs and videos of themselves engaging in physical training and mixed martial arts street-fighting techniques, along with messages and propaganda related to their alt-right, anti-Semitic, and white-supremacist views. In addition, RAM members and associates expressed and promoted violence against those who they believed held opposing political views.
From on or about March 2017 to on or about August 2017, RAM and its members, including Gillen, traveled to multiple political rallies and organized demonstrations in Virginia and California where they prepared to, and engaged in, acts of violence.
On March 25, 2017, Gillen attended a political rally in Huntington Beach, Calif. with several RAM members. At that event, RAM members pursued and assaulted protestors, and others, and later celebrated the news coverage depicting photographs of the assaults. RAM members went so far as to use the photographs and videos of the assaults to recruit members to engage in violent confrontations at future events.
On April 15, 2017, Gillen attended a purported political rally in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Park in Berkley, Calif. There were violent clashes between attendees and protestors throughout the day. As the rally broke up, Gillen and other RAM members followed and attacked a group of protestors as they left the area. Specifically, Gillen punched one protestor several times and stomped on him once. Gillen’s encounter was captured on video and subsequently posted to YouTube. Following the rally, Gillen sent a text message to a friend with the YouTube video attached. In the message, he wrote: “20 seconds in I’m in the grey shirt turning up a commie.”
RAM members further celebrated the violence in Berkley. For example, the RAM Instagram account posted a photograph of a RAM member wearing a black skull mask at the Berkley event along with the comment, “#rightwingdeathsquad.”
In August 2017, Gillen, Daley, Miselis, and Cole planned to travel to Charlottesville, Va., to attend the Unite the Right Rally. Gillen purchased a one-way ticket from American Airlines departing August 11, 2017. At the time of his travel, Gillen expected that either he or his fellow RAM members would engage in violent confrontations with protestors or other individuals at the upcoming events in Charlottesville.
Upon arrival and in anticipation of violence, RAM members, including Gillen, purchased athletic tape at Wal-Mart to wrap their wrists to prevent their hands from breaking when they engaged in street violence.
On August 11, 2017, the evening prior to the scheduled Unite the Right Rally, Gillen and other members of RAM, joined hundreds of individuals in a torch-lit march on the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Throughout the march, participants chanted “Blood and soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!” The march culminated near a statue of Thomas Jefferson where a small group of students gathered to protest white supremacy. Violence erupted among the crowd, with some punching, kicking, spraying chemical irritants and swinging torches. During and in furtherance of this riot, RAM members, including Gillen, struck multiple individuals with a torch. These actions were not in self-defense.
On the morning of August 12, 2017, Gillen and other members of RAM, with hands wrapped in white athletic tape, were part of a large group of over 40 individuals seeking entry into Emancipation Park by way of Second Street when they were told by law enforcement to enter at a different location. The group, including Gillen and other RAM members, turned, lined up, and began to make their way through a group of over 20 individuals who had come to the rally to protest against discrimination. As they made their way through the group of protestors, the RAM members collectively pushed, punched, kicked, chocked, head-butted, and otherwise assaulted several individuals, resulting in a riot. These actions were not in self-defense.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Virginia State Police. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh, and Assistant United States Attorney Justin Lugar are prosecuting the case for the United States.